How the Benchwarmer Makes a Difference

“Toss me a water” my teammate hollers as I realize I haven’t even broken a sweat, only moving to open and close the doors.

Growing up in a family centered around professional hockey, I felt I was expected to be a similar athlete, headlining newspapers and breaking school records. Instead I, the daughter and granddaughter of professional hockey players, could barely keep my spot as a benchwarmer.

I feel a tap on my helmet, look up, and notice my coach smiling at me. I’m finally going to go in,  I think, as the smile shifts from his face to mine. With my mouth guard in, I readjust my helmet and wait for my cue. My cue never came. Instead, I hear my coach calling for Nancy to hit the ice; the same girl who destroyed my confidence the first day of tryouts freshman year.

As I walked onto the ice as a hopeful freshman, I imagined myself carrying on the Hodge family name, proving that I could and would carry on its legacy. Any expectations I had for myself were quickly smashed by the coach calling for one-on-one drills.

“Alright get on the hash marks.”

I am clueless because a) I do not know what one-on-one drills entail, and b) I can barely hold my stick in my hands, let alone use it. I begin to shake nervously and feel a knot grow in my stomach as I know I will be partnered with Nancy.

You’ve got to be kidding me. She eats nails for breakfast. She’s going to swallow me whole.

The whistle blows before I can begin to prepare myself, and in two seconds I am pinned against the boards. This was not at all how I had imagined tryouts. I expected myself to hold my own and win.

After my slaughter, the whistle blew, giving me one last chance at redemption. I race to the puck, gain possession first, feeling strong because for once, I have the puck.

Maybe I’ll actually win this. Maybe I’ll get a starting position after all.

My dreams are shattered as my head pounds right back into the boards.

The whistle blows again; I’ve suffered long enough, and Nancy skates off to her next victim.

I toss the water bottle down the bench, and feel failure. Sitting there, fully dressed in hockey equipment, I’m still waiting for my chance. I have been let down numerous times by my own anticipation of playing in this game. I have convinced myself that my time would come, my shift would come, and I would play in a high competition game, not just when my team was up by five goals.

I knew I was expected to be great, not only by myself, but by my teammates and coaches. My definition of success had been scoring goals and getting assists, but my only contributions were passing my teammates water bottles and opening doors for them.

Determined to create my own role on the team, I decided to pass out inspirational quotes and be a support system from the bench. Unexpectedly, these notes turned out to have a valuable impact on my teammates.

At the conclusion of the season, my teammates and families gathered around a banquet hall, speeches were made, food was served, and coach ended on his final remarks.

“Everyone, the girls had the opportunity to vote for their captain for next season and they have deleted Ashley”.

I am speechless. How did this happen. I don’t even play. Aren’t captains supposed to make an impact on their team? What did I do?

Two seasons had flown by and I didn’t have time to catch my breath. My actions were instinctive, my intensions were sincere, but I never realized their value.

In my mind, I failed at contributing physically to the team, but I unknowingly found what it meant to lead from the bench.

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